Sunday, December 23, 2012

Biodun Jeyifo on Chinua Achebe

At last, Oga BJ is tackling this book of the year just a week after his comrade, Edwin Madunagu, cautioned the left against engaging with the book for fear that it could reopen old wounds and make it difficult for the left to reunite in the future. Madunagu's column in the Guardian remained cryptic about atrocities that he said he witnessed during the war and how hostile leftists were to his efforts to re-open debates about the history of the civil war in the past.

Below, BJ has started what promises to be a controversial engagement with the book and already he has offered fresh interpretations: There was a Country refers also to Nigeria (which is increasingly not working like a country) and not only to Biafra; Achebe comes across as a propagandist (and an ethnic one at that) unlike his realist literary personae of the past; Achebe was delusional in presenting the work as an intellectual contribution devoid of tribalism; and Achebe only mentioned the ruling class in the final part of the four-part book.

Let us wait and read every word of Jeyifo's series of commentary on the book before responding to BJ since he is one of the most respected authorities on Achebe as he indicated in his opening paragraph; he has published books and essays on Achebe as one of the greatest realists of the past 100 years worldwide.

However, to say that Achebe is only just emerging as a propagandist is to miss the point that he has always been one given his theory that arts for arts sake was nothing but deodorized dog shit. But Achebe who worked with Aminu Kano in a progressive political formation and lambasted his fellow Igbo leader, Azikiwe, mercilessly in the very propagandist The Trouble with Nigeria, is far from being an ethnic propagandist; Achebe only recognizes the historically-specific fact that the ethnic violence in Nigeria almost always picks on one ethnic group without justification while the intellectual left pretends that only class analysis is valid.

BJ should watch the Leninist danger of not recognizing snow in the real world because it does not look like snow in the textbooks by saying that Achebe only mentioned class at the end of the book. Rather, he should try to read the book from the perspective of ethnic-class-gender articulation as advanced by Stuart Hall or from what is known in Critical Race Theory as the intersectionality perspective for the book dwelt on the educated elite, the religious elite, the expatriate elite, the political class, the military top brass, the business elite and the ruling classes in other countries compared to the masses even when the word, class, was not always used.

Finally, BJ should avoid the temptation to join ethnic war-lords in apportioning blame for genocide equally to the genocidized and the genocidists for as Soyinka pointed out in Of Africa, even if thieves robbed your home because you left a window open at night as they did Achebe's apartment in Enugu during the war, it does not follow that the thieves are not guilty especially if charged with a grave crime as genocide given that the leaders of the war crime went about bragging that all is fair in war. Instead of taking Achebe to task for being a peace ambassador throughout the war or for being a close adviser to Ojukwu, it would be interesting to know what BJ himself was doing during the war.

Hopefully, the progressive in BJ will join the call for reparations to be paid to the survivors of the Biafra genocide that cost us more than 3 million lives, including non-Igbos, instead of joining the wicked to blame the victims and even if a punitive war crimes trial is avoided in the spirit of the African Mbari or Ubuntu that Achebe invoked from beginning to end.

Oga BJ, we look forward to learning from your historical materialist reading of Achebe's truthful book as usual, but I hope that you will not read it like any Truthful Lies from your opus on fictional literature characterized by spiritual escapism in West Africa (echoing your almost identical 'ibeji', Ola Rotimi, The Gods Are Not To Blame) compared to the realism of Southern African variants.

Make we dey check am... To read the first part of Jeyifo's commentary, follow the link below: